Finally, every Big South team has played a conference game so the standings actually make some semblance of sense.
Charleston Southern 1-0 1.000 3-2 overall
Liberty 1-0 1.000 3-3 overall
Gardner-Webb 1-0 1.000 3-4 overall
Presbyterian 1-1 0.500 2-4 overall
Kennesaw State 0-1 0.000 4-2 overall
Monmouth 0-2 0.000 4-3 overall
- CSU is going to go nearly a full month between playing conference games but four of their next five games at home. Their outlook is good.
- On the road at Kennesaw was a big test for Liberty but the Flames get the next two Big South games at home. Both of them (Monmouth & Gardner-Webb) are against teams that Liberty lost to on the road in 2015.
- Despite losing to Coastal, Gardner-Webb is still in the exact same position in-conference as CSU and Liberty. Next week at Kennesaw will determine if G-W is ready to make a statement this year.
- Presbyterian is a looooooooonng shot at best to win the conference title but, mathematically, are still in the hunt.
- Losing at home to Liberty hurt Kennesaw’s chances of the conference title in a big way but didn’t completely end them. KSU’s non-conference schedule did them no favors in terms of earning them an at-large.
- Monmouth is still technically alive for the conference title but needs a Domesday Book-like list of things to go their way just to get a share of the title, let alone win any tiebreakers. For all intents and purposes, Monmouth is playing for next season.
On to the games:
(3-2) Charleston Southern BYE
The Buccaneers enjoyed an open date – this one scheduled – for the third time this season. No FCS team has had three open dates during an 11-game schedule since at least 2009.
(2-4) Presbyterian 17, (4-3) Monmouth 13
A quick congratulations goes out to Presbyterian who actually won twice this week. A couple of hours before kickoff, news broke out of Gainesville that the University of Florida had bought out their November 19th game with Presbyterian to the tune of around half a million dollars. A couple of days later, Presbyterian and South Alabama made the announcement that they will, instead, play each other that day with PC getting another six figures to play in Mobile. Kudos to Presby AD Brian Reese and his staff for getting two FBS payouts for the price of one. Add in that season-opening trip to Central Michigan and the Blue Hose have made bank this season.
Now, on to this week’s game.
Given that Presbyterian QB Ben Cheek had never thrown for 125 yards in a game over the course of his entire career, one would be forgiven for assuming this game would be won or lost for Presbyterian in the trenches. But, when Cheek had hit that mark by halftime against Monmouth, it became obvious that he and the Blue Hose were winning the battle where it was least expected, in the defensive secondary.
For much of the first quarter, this was less of a defensive slugfest and more a frat party chest bump standoff. Both teams struggled to build any momentum and, when they did, penalties or injuries shut it down again. Presby committed drive-stalling penalties on each of their first four possessions. Monmouth, on the other hand, nearly converted a 3rd-and-20 on their first drive but MU QB Cody Williams was hit low while scrambling for the first down. He came up limping and was ineffective for the rest of the night, eventually being replaced for good by Kenji Bahar early in the 3rd quarter.
Both teams came to life in the second frame, however. PC put together a lengthy 14-play drive down to the 12-yard line only to watch Monmouth block their field goal attempt. Monmouth, for their part, started feeding RB Lavon Chaney the ball as often as possible. Chaney, who looked as healthy as he has since opening day at Lehigh, responded and carried the ball for 46 yards on the drive including the last one into the end zone to put the Hawks up 7-0 with 4:15 remaining in the half. That was just enough time for Presbyterian though as Cheek’s arm and legs carried his team the length of the field over that time span, finally lofting a pass to WR DaShawn Davis in the back corner of the end zone with just twelve seconds remaining before the halftime whistle.
Presbyterian got the ball to start the second half and picked up right where they left off. However, on the 4th play of the drive, Monmouth LB Payton Minnich came through the line completely untouched and planted Cheek into the ground for a 10-yard loss. Cheek got up slowly holding his throwing shoulder and was escorted to the locker room from whence he did not return. John Walker came on for PC and completed the drive – helped out by a huge penalty on Monmouth for roughing the punter –, culminating in a 27-yard field goal that just barely got through the uprights and which gave Presby a 10-7 lead. The two teams traded punts as neither Bahar nor Walker were able to get particularly comfortable but, eventually, Monmouth went back to the one thing that was working for them: more Lavon Chaney. Chaney got the ball on five straight plays and carried it into the end zone from five yards out to give the Hawks the lead once again at 13-10.
That lead lasted for just under three minutes. On PC’s next drive, and after an offensive pass interference had set them back to 1st-and-25, Monmouth had a complete breakdown in pass coverage and allowed Presby WR Daryl Wilson to wander completely uncovered up the home sideline where Walker hit him for a 44-yard touchdown pass to put the Blue Hose back on top for good.
Monmouth would not go quietly, however. Cheney and Friends put together one last surge that got them as far as the PC 7 but another ill-timed penalty and an incomplete pass on 4th down essentially ended the game.
What does this win mean for Presbyterian? – It is absolutely massive for Presbyterian and it’s not just the win, it’s how they did it. PC has relied heavily on their ground game with RB Darrell Bridges partly because they can – Bridges is good enough – and partly because they couldn’t rely on a consistent passing game. Bridges still got 80 yards on the ground and was a vital part of the offense but it was the sudden emergence of an air attack that stole the show. On the Big South telecast, you could see the Monmouth DB’s turning to each other, pointing and shaking their heads in frustration as they gave up one key play after another through the air.
What does this loss mean for Monmouth? – It’s bad. Monmouth still has the opportunity to win eight games for the first time since 2006 but this loss is an absolute back-breaker for the Hawks post-season hopes. Any realistic shot at winning the conference title is now gone and this loss pretty much washes out the Fordham win in terms of an at-large resume. No team has ever made the FCS playoffs after losing to Presbyterian. Really, Monmouth has no one to blame but themselves, too. The Hawks are easily the most-penalized team in the nation let alone being easily the most-penalized team in the conference and penalties played a huge part in this game. PC got a first down on both of their first two scoring drives due to MU penalties and Monmouth’s last shot at winning the game was made more difficult thanks to a false start that pushed the Hawks even farther away on 4th down.
(4-2) Coastal Carolina 17, (3-4) Gardner-Webb 7
This game was a study in monotony and frustration, particularly for the Coastal offense. Coastal came into this game averaging just north of 42 points a contest. However, the first quarter consisted largely of both Gardner-Webb and Coastal running the ball outside followed by running into the line followed by a short pass and neither team progressing past the 50. Coastal finally got a little bit of a breakthrough when returner Chris Jones brought a Gardner-Webb punt out to midfield and the Chanticleers were able to drive into the red zone. However, G-W freshman DB Jaylon Foster stepped in front of a Tyler Keane pass in the end zone and snuffed out the drive.
Gardner-Webb went three-and-out and, again, Coastal drove into the red zone and all the way down to the goal line. But, the offense stalled at the 1-yard line and they came away with just a field goal to go up 3-0.
After two more Gardner-Webb drives ended at midfield, Coastal got the ball back at their own 20 with 2:12 left in the first half and made one more push to get into the end zone before the break. The Chants got as far as the Runnin’ Bulldog 31-yard line where they threw a receiver screen pass to the left but G-W’s Chad Geter ripped the ball out of the Coastal player’s hands and Foster picked up the fumble and ran it back inside the Coastal 10. Two plays later and with just four seconds on the clock, QB Tyrell Maxwell found Adonus Lee for an 8-yard touchdown pass that gave G-Webb a 7-3 halftime lead. At that point, Coastal had outgained Gardner-Webb 174-84 in total offense.
The third quarter was more of the same. Neither team put together a drive that went longer than four plays or farther than 13 yards. Coastal finally got something going at the end of the frame by force feeding Gardner-Webb a steady diet of DeAngelo Henderson. The Chants drove once again into the red zone and the opening of the fourth quarter found them standing on the G-W 10-yard line. Henderson went left down to the 1 and then, on the next play, dove over the top to extend his NCAA-record streak of consecutive games with a touchdown to 32. However, Henderson landed awkwardly on his shoulder and gingerly exited the field. He would not return.
Down 10-7, the Gardner-Webb offense still could not find a way to manufacture yards. After three plays, they punted the ball back to Coastal. Having finally found a rhythm even without Henderson on the field, Coastal marched right back deep into Gardner-Webb territory. Keane found WR Bruce Mapp from eleven yards out and it was a 17-7 ball game. Gardner-Webb got one more desperate shot though. With just two minutes to play and starting at their own 11-yard line, the Bulldogs rolled 69 yards in under 90 seconds – far and away their best offensive output of the day – but Maxwell threw an interception in the end zone to seal their fate.
What does this loss mean for Gardner-Webb? – Aside from boring the homecoming crowd silly, it means nothing substantial, really. Gardner-Webb’s only path to the post-season lies in the conference title and this wasn’t a conference game. While the defense was stout, what could be of concern here is that, for 58 minutes, the Bulldog offense was completely stagnant. Their final desperation drive in the fourth quarter was effective but accounted for 31% of their total offense on the day. That’s not ideal.
(3-3) Liberty 36, (4-2) Kennesaw State 21
The marquee conference matchup from Saturday – also the only conference matchup from Saturday – saw perennial Big South contender Liberty visiting the hot upstart program at Kennesaw State. KSU had won four straight coming into the game while LU had lost five straight on the road going back to last year. But, it was homecoming at Kennesaw and anything can happen at Kennesaw.
Both teams went three-and-out on their first possessions but the Owls caught a break when their low, gnarly-looking punt took a backwards hop and hit a Liberty gunner in the back of the leg. KSU fell on the live ball at Liberty’s 26-yard line and, seven plays later, QB Chandler Burks dove in from a yard out to put the home team up 7-0.
That lead lasted eighteen seconds.
Frankie Hickson received the ensuing kickoff at his own goal line – in just about the same spot that Burks had just scored from moments before – and ran it 99 yards the other way to tie the game at 7-all. It was Liberty’s first kickoff return touchdown since taking one back against VMI in 2011.
Not to be outdone, KSU RB Darnell Holland took a pitch on the first play from scrimmage and ran 53 yards down inside the Liberty 30. That drive would stall, however, and the Owls were forced to attempt a field goal from 26 yards. It went wide left. That would be important later.
Liberty did nothing with their turn with the ball this time and had to punt. That kick was partially blocked, though, and KSU was again sitting in prime field position to take the lead once more. They got as far as the LU 25 and chose to go for it on 4th-and-9 instead of attempting a long field goal. That failed. Taking over the ball, the Flames finally got some offense going and advanced as far as the KSU 30 before settling for a 47-yard field goal attempt from Alex Probert. Right down the middle and the visitors went up, 10-7.
On KSU’s next possession, the Liberty defense held and forced a quick punt. They then drove across into KSU territory but got held up at the KSU 33. Probert came in again – this time from 50 yards out – and, again, he split the uprights to put LU up by six. The Flames couldn’t keep the Owls in check for long, however. On 3rd down from his own 37, RB Chaston Bennett took a pitch around the right side, eluded two tacklers, cut back across the field and ran 63 yards straight into the KSU student section behind the end zone. Kennesaw was up by a point with 2:18 remaining in the half. That was just enough time for Liberty.
QB Buckshot Calvert engineered a dink-and-dunk drive that went 10 plays, 73 yards and took all but the last nine seconds off the clock. It ended with WR BJ Farrow making a gymnastic leaping grab in the front corner of the end zone and Liberty was back up six going into halftime.
After the break, KSU got the ball but went three-and-out. Given the opportunity to extend the lead and put pressure on Kennesaw’s offense, LU did just that. Calvert hit Zack Parker down the middle for a big gain and, three plays later, RB Todd Macon would punch it in from three yards out to extend the Flames’ lead to twelve. A two-point conversion attempt failed.
Liberty and Kennesaw traded punts but, in the closing moments of the third quarter, KSU hit two big pass plays that put them on the Liberty goal line at the start of the 4th quarter. The Liberty defense, however, stood strong. 1st-and-Goal from the 5 turned into 4th-and-Goal from the 1, where Burks was stonewalled for the third straight play and LU took over on downs. The Flames got out from under the goal posts enough to punt the ball away to their own 43. On the next play, however, a scrambling Burks reversed field twice before hitting Bennett in stride and running up the home sideline. He raced untouched into the student section again and the Liberty lead was now just five points.
LU got the ball back and took another five full minutes off the clock, eventually getting as far as the KSU 30-yard line. In came Probert one more time from 47 yards and, one more time, he booted it through. With 7:29 remaining, the Flames were up 29-21 and it looked like this game might come down the wire. However, KSU was called for an illegal block penalty on third down and were forced to punt. Liberty began to dink-and-dunk again with short passes and direct runs, just keeping the clock moving. With three and a half minutes left, KSU gambled on defense and called a blitz as Liberty RB Carrington Moseley broke through the hole up the middle. When the KSU linebacker bounced off of him, there was no one there to stop him and Moseley raced 52 yards untouched to pay dirt.
Kennesaw refused to go quietly, however. Burks and the Owls took to the air getting all the way down to a 1st-and-Goal from the Liberty 5-yard line. 1st-and-Goal – again – turned into 4th-and-Goal from about a foot out and, again, Burks called his own number. The Flames’ defense stoned him again to preserve the final margin.
What does this win mean for Liberty? – It’s a pretty big deal. As mentioned, Liberty was on a 5-game losing streak and to get a win in someone else’s house is significant. Add in the raucous homecoming crowd and an up-and-coming team out to prove a point and it gathers even more meaning. Liberty’s confidence has to have been a little shaky after the early season struggles but Calvert handled himself and the offense like a veteran, the offense was balanced and productive, Probert banged in three monster field goals – both in distance and in import – and, while the defense gave up a lot of yards, had not one, but two goal line stands and held the opponent to 1-of-4 in the red zone.
What does this loss mean for Kennesaw? – The margin of defeat to Liberty in this game was larger than that of their loss a year ago but, unlike the 2015 meeting in Lynchburg, this one was actually a close game. The loss, however, puts them behind the 8-ball in the standings with three of their remaining four conference games on the road.
Biggest surprise of the week: Liberty’s defense coming up with two goal line stands against a triple-option team.
Biggest disappointment of the week: Monmouth’s pass defense. PC had not passed for 250 yards in a game since 2013.